Monday, May 23, 2011

Masks – Exploring the Issues: Celestial Glory Shall Be Mine

“Celestial glory shall be mine if I can but endure.”

One of the very first songs a Mormon child learns to sing is “I Am a Child of God,” a very sweet little song that contains within its simple melody and honeyed phrases the essence of Mormon theology.  At a tender age, children learn that they are children of God, that they lived somewhere else in God’s presence before they came here to earth, that they have been sent from that place to this earth, and that their goal is to return to Heavenly Father some day.

The song teaches a number of other principles, some of which I hope to return to; but for this post, I want to focus on the fourth verse, which contains the summum bonum of Mormon theology:

I am a Child of God. 
His promises are sure;
Celestial glory shall be mine
If I can but endure.

In this post, I continue an exploration of various aspects of Mormon doctrine and theology that I think have contributed, and continue to contribute, to the formation of Mormon mixed-orientation marriages. Other than Mormon doctrine concerning homosexuality itself, I submit that no other doctrine contributes more to the creation of and angst over mixed-orientation marriages, as well as homosexuality itself, than the doctrine of the “new and everlasting covenant” (of eternal marriage).

For faithful Mormons, merely being “saved” is not enough; the goal of life is nothing short of “exaltation.”  Former apostle Bruce R. McConkie explained the significance of this doctrine in his classic, Mormon Doctrine

“Exaltation grows out of the eternal union of a man and his wife. Of those whose marriage endures in eternity, the Lord says, ‘Then shall they be gods’ (D&C 132:20); that is, each of them, the man and the woman, will be a god. As such they will rule over their dominions forever …

“Marriages performed in the temples for time and eternity [unite] … the participating parties [as] husband and wife in this mortal life, and if after their marriage they keep all the terms and conditions of this order of the priesthood, they continue on as husband and wife in the celestial kingdom of God. If the family unit continues, then by virtue of that fact the members of the family have gained eternal life (exaltation) … 

“Mortal persons who overcome all things and gain an ultimate exaltation will live eternally in the family unit and have spirit children, thus becoming Eternal Fathers and Eternal Mothers … becoming gods in their own right” (Mormon Doctrine, pp. 117, 129, 613).

It is perhaps difficult for non-Mormons to understand the centrality to Mormon theology of these beliefs and teachings.  For most Christians, “salvation” is a post-mortal reward that results – in essence – from living a good moral life, from following the teachings of Jesus Christ and believing that He can atone for mortal shortcomings. 

Mormon theology, however, has moved the goalposts way past the concept of mere “salvation.”  Though faithful Mormons believe that in God’s house “are many mansions” [which, in Mormon-speak, means kingdoms or degrees of glory] which may be perfectly fine for other people, they believe that – for them - salvation is basically an “all or nothing” concept:  either one obtains exaltation (with all that this term implies – see Bruce R., above) or just forget it.  No lower “degree of glory” is acceptable. 

This concept is taught from a very young age and is reflected in the above-quoted passage from the 4th verse of “I Am a Child of God”:  “Celestial glory shall be mine - IF I can but endure” [emphasis added].  This verse also reflects another, companion, precept that is of paramount importance in Mormon theology:  obedience. Obtaining celestial glory is contingent upon “enduring to the end,” obeying all of God’s commandments (especially remaining “temple worthy”) and doing all that is required to reach that goal.

Paradoxically, and as an aside, a modern-day Christian might more easily relate to the teachings of the founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, rather than current teachings.  Joseph declared that “the fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it" (emphasis added; TPJS, p. 121).  He also declared that the first principle of the Gospel to be “Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.” 

In today’s Mormon Church, however, it is arguable that the cluster of doctrine surrounding eternal/celestial/temple marriage constitutes the “fundamental principles of our religion … and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it”; furthermore, perhaps not surprisingly, the “first law of heaven” has in practical terms arguably supplanted the first principle of the gospel.  “Obedience is the first law of heaven,” wrote Elder Bruce R. McConkie, “the cornerstone upon which all righteousness and progression rest.”  And this first law of heaven has been correlated and woven through much of what one currently finds in instruction manuals, conference talks and church magazine articles.

But I digress.

The point is that this “all or nothing” concept is at the root of much of what produces angst, self-hatred, deceit and heartache in Mormon men and women who have the extreme misfortune of having been born anything but heterosexual.

If a young gay man does not marry a woman in the temple and then remain faithful to his temple covenants (i.e., enduring to the end), he automatically knocks himself out of the running for exaltation.  He knows this, of course, and as a faithful Mormon, it causes him no end of worrying which can quickly escalate into depression.  Apart from everything else he feels because he knows he is gay, he feels a deep and dark dense of failure because he knows he’s missed – forever – the brass ring.

On top of this sense of failure is then piled a layer of guilt because he knows – because he has been told over and over again as a young man advancing toward the day that he receives the Melchizedek priesthood – that he has a sacred duty and obligation toward his Heavenly Father’s daughters to provide one of them an opportunity to go to the temple and be sealed for time and all eternity to a worthy priesthood holder. 

This obligation was echoed in the most recent General Conference by Elder Scott when he said, “I feel sorry for any man who hasn’t yet made the choice to seek an eternal companion, and my heart weeps for the sisters who haven’t had the opportunity to marry.”  Ouch.  Guilt.  And don’t forget President Monson’s talk during Priesthood Session, in which he said the following:  “Now, I have thought a lot lately about you young men who are of an age to marry but who have not yet felt to do so. I see lovely young ladies who desire to be married and to raise families, and yet their opportunities are limited because so many young men are postponing marriage.”  He then quoted several former presidents of the Church who had said much the same thing.  Again, guilt – but the young gay man knows it’s not because he doesn’t want to; it’s because he can’t.

Because eternal rewards are bound up in the concept of family kingdoms (exaltation of families, not individuals), actions of a family member in mortality are seen as affecting not only that family member’s eternal salvation, but also the salvation of his entire family of origin.  This leads to parents of gay children not only mourning the “loss” of these children, whom they believe have lost their chance to sit in the eternal family circle, leading to the proverbial empty chair (“No Empty Chairs” being a slogan commonly found on walls in Mormon homes); it also often leads to resentment toward this child for putting the exaltation of the entire family in jeopardy.

Beyond all these theological concerns, however, are the (some would say equally important) cultural concerns.  A temple marriage for their children is the fondest hope of many a Mormon parent, particularly in areas where there are large concentrations of Church members.  A temple marriage is a sign to the community in such areas that a child is ok, is doing the right thing, is respectable, is on “the path.”  Failure to marry in the temple, on the other hand, often becomes the subject of speculation and subjects the child’s parents to embarrassment if not outright shame in the their community (which, of course would often pale in significance when compared with the shame of having a gay son).

So, what is a young gay Mormon to do?  “Teach me all that I must do,” he used to sing in Primary, “to live with Him [Heavenly Father] someday.”  Is there a place for him in Heavenly Father’s home? Why is there so much emphasis in the Church upon exaltation (which, apart from what has been described above, contributes to a culture of fake perfectionism in the Church)?  Why does this have to be the end-all? 

The 131st section of the Doctrine and Covenants is the scriptural source for the Mormon doctrine of three degrees of glory within the celestial kingdom.  Apart from anything else that could (and has) been said about this section, why has nothing ever been said about the other two degrees of glory (except that the inhabitants thereof cannot have increase, i.e., spirit children)?  Is there not ample room within Mormon theology to provide a place in the afterlife for Heavenly Father’s gay and lesbian children?  Did not Jesus himself say that in His father’s house are many mansions?  Couldn’t families (and the whole church membership) benefit from backing away from the all-or-nothing emphasis on exaltation?  Why don’t we ever talk about those many other mansions?

And finally, could not our young gay Mormon, together with those he loves, share celestial glory – the kind he used to sing about as a child?  As I said to a new friend this past weekend, given that I have received a spiritual witness that Heavenly Father accepts me as I am – gay – I am totally confident that there is such a place available for me in my Father’s house.


  1. Can I finally come out of the closet on "I Am a Child of God?" I have never liked it. As a kid it always gave me a nauseated feeling in the pit of my stomach that I have never out grown.

  2. You certainly may, Andy. I found your comment extremely interesting. I didn't grow up in the Church, so don't have that perspective. I wonder how many others feel the same way you do. The song sure is jam-packed with all kinds of doctrinal messages.

  3. Exaltation was one of those doctrines of Mormonism that always made me uncomfortable, even as a believing LDS person. Presuming oneself to be on a path toward godhood seemed more evidence of megalomania than religious devotion. I thought this even when I was a believing, tithe-paying LDS member. (I had a serious case of cognitive dissonance.)

    The Church has undergone many enormous cultural changes over its history. These changes have more or less mirrored the larger social changes outside of the Church. In the end, I don't know if doctrine has that much of an effect. To me it seems that doctrine provides cover for policy. If the Church wants to start treating gay people with more dignity, doctrine won't stop it from doing that.

  4. "Is there not ample room within Mormon theology to provide a place in the afterlife for Heavenly Father’s gay and lesbian children?"

    I have asked this question, among others you've raised in this and related posts, many times. At one point in my process, I (almost) believed what is described in a blogpost, here:

    Thank you for this series of posts. I believe you're doing great work. I thank God for individuals like you who keep faith, courage and the idea that love-is-truly-for-everyone burning.

  5. I to have had my concerns for what awaits me on the other side. Upon serious reflection I know that I was created in love and something wonderful awaits me or us. To think anything different is counter intuitive to what a loving God would have in place. I firmly believe that there is SO MUCH we just don't know that will be revealed on the other side.

    I was ex'd or should I say "released" from the Church and subsequently divorced nearly 9 years ago. The marriage produced 3 wonderful boys. And today I'm lucky to count my ex wife as one of dearest friends. However, my dad a former bishop has been unrelenting in his approach with me. He has lived his life from a place of fear where I'm concerned. He fears for my mortal safety and is really freaked out that "I will be missing from the table" on the other side. I'm a grown man now and the oldest of 6 kids. However, a parent never stops being a parent. I know he does this out of love for me. However, it's gotten to the point where it's counter productive.

    Today after reading your post over lunch I was able to shift the conversation from the only way to true happiness is by following the LDS gospel plan and gave him some hope that his gay son is not destined for outer darkness.

    Your efforts here are making a HUGE difference. I sincerely thank you!!

  6. For me the paradox was/is: to live in the presence of God in the highest kingdom requires that I live in the presence of my wife; hence heaven becomes hell.

    As I have said before, I believe that God cares more about how I treat my partner than that I have one. And I too believe there is a lovely place prepared for us to dwell together in the beyond.

  7. @favoritenic - Loved your blog post, and thanks for your feedback! I am so pleased to hear that what I write resonates with someone. Comments such as yours are what give me the impetus I need to keep going.

    @foto2010 - Thank you so much for sharing a bit of your experiences and what you have faced in dealing with your father. And, again, thank you for your feedback. As with favoritenic, comments such as yours help me to keep going.

    @Trey - Very aptly said. Thank you.

  8. i'm sure this takes a LOT of effort not only to process all that you are processing but to have it laid out in such a thoughtful and helpful manner is truly a blessing. Especially if you have only been blogging for a relatively short time. Some of the helpful resources for me have included Carol Lynn Pearson. Her Goodbye I Love You I bawled through the entire book as I reflected on my own journey. Now thankfully I don't have AIDS but have the blessing of a very compassionate ex wife who I have no doubt would care for me if I ever needed what Carol Lynn's husband needed. She did a 5 part Podcast on ( also a helpful resource) that was very sweet and helpful. I'm not sure if you have given any thought to becoming a published author but your messages are so helpful and timely that you might be able to reach a broader audience?? Yes you are that good!! Time is a precious commodity and you may consider adding a PayPal Donation link to your site if that helps your situation. I suggest donation vs. subscription because it may change the dynamics for you if you feel you need to play to a particular base other than just sharing what's going on simply for you.

    I know this comment is a bit off topic. If I should put this someplace else just let me know.

    Thanks again for helping give a voice to your fellow travelers.

  9. I didn't grow up in the church. But I am a member of only 3 years and 5 Months . My First time hearing that song changed my life for the good I am a child of God. I never had the family that I needed here on the earth as I needed so the church became my family per say. So that song means a lot to me. and I have came out to every one that I know. and Love as well. I am a gay child of God and I am proud of it.

  10. I find this entire subject fascinating and frightening. I've observed that this 'all or nothing' mentality leads many members to treat gay relationships like the conjugate of celestial marriage. Mormons love the idea of everything having an opposite, so it sort of makes sense to think this way.

    As an asexual, however, I find myself in an odd place. Black and white thinking allows for gay and straight, yet I'm somewhere in between or somewhere else altogether. The church's understanding of sexuality shines through as especially archaic when seen in this light. As an asexual, I could potentially have a same sex partner, yet never break a hard chastity law. How can the church address this? When will it be ready to expand its view to give non heterosexuals a valid place? Furthermore, when will the church encourage an identity for me as a woman that isn't strictly 'mother?'

  11. BPennock - How true that Mormons like to think of everything having an opposite. I hadn't quite looked at the Mormon propensity to see everything in black and white in this way.

    Thanks as well for bringing to the table the concept of being asexual. I suppose, according to orthodox Mormonism, asexuality is just one more thing that will be "cured" by the "power of the Atonement" in the afterlife.

    As to getting beyond the identity as mother, I don't think that will ever change. I frankly think the Church would accept gay marriage before the mindset on that changes.

    @MastonEwing - I'm glad that you are proud to be a gay child of God. :)

    @foto2010 - Thank you for your kind words. Several people have encouraged me to write a book. Perhaps that time will come. Who knows? :)

  12. Since Father accepts us as He created us and so does Mother by the way, I say that there is a place for us it is a place of infinite progress and glory.